[No Bear Talk] Choco-Fingers

XX and I continue to try out the snacks bought from Narita Airport! This time, they’re 2 boxes of chocolate wafer fingers!

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Are The Lobster Rolls In Boston Really As Good As They Say?

When I went to Boston in 2012, I was left with deep impression of a city that was clean, modern and yet without the rush that most metropoles like New York City or Shanghai have. In fact, Boston is to New York City is just like Yokohama is to Tokyo.

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If you haven’t known that, when one visits Boston, he should try the lobster rolls, just like when one is in Singapore, he should try Hainan Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, Chye Tow Kueh, Bak Kut Teh…. Imagine my regret when I failed to try the famed lobster rolls!

Therefore, when I finally returned to Boston last year, I made sure I set aside time to try the lobster rolls. In fact, I tried lobster rolls from 2 famous places: Luke’s and Legal Sea Foods.

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Legal Sea Foods

Legal Sea Foods is a big franchise name in East Coast (and even bigger in Boston), so visiting it requires little research or preparations; All you need to do is to search for the nearest outlet to get your fix. It serves a wide range of seafood, though I’m gonna focus on the Lobster Rolls and its signature: Oysters Legal and Legal’s Crab Cake.

 

Prior to that, N and I went strolling in MIT and Harvard Square, so we popped by the nearest Legal Sea Foods outlet at Cambridge – Charles Square (in Charles Hotel). According to the official website (https://www.legalseafoods.com), this outlet was designed to “evoke the simple style of the original Legal Sea Foods that was in nearby Inman Square, Cambridge”. I had not been to Inman Square, but I was indeed charmed by the courtyard in Charles Square!

When we reached the restaurant, it was already drizzling. The courtyard was wet and cloudy, but the wooden structure in the centre of the courtyard beckoned at us as we trudged across the tranquil space. We were met with a warm welcome by the friendly staff and an equally warm interior set up. As we were early (the crowd came fast and furious after 12pm), we had the luxury of a whole booth seat to ourselves!

 

Unlike the other restaurants we visited in Boston (or even NYC), the layout of Legal Sea Foods at Charles Square was spacious. The earthy wooden setting was a stark contrast to the damp and cold winter draped across the courtyard, which made the meal all the more warm and welcoming.

The Oysters Legal, being an appetizer, was HUGE.  I meant the serving, not the oysters themselves. Each oyster was deep-fried with breaded crumbs, which resulted in a heavenly concoction of soft juicy tenderness wrapped in piping pot, crispy fragrance. Many Singaporeans would have been disappointed to know the oysters were deep-fried, but I must say they were not deep-fried in vain!

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N ordered a Legal’s Crab Cake, which was a burger with Crab Cake as a patty. Like most American burgers, the patty was drenched in melted cheese and paired with the shoestring fries and broccoli. The crab cake did not disappoint, bringing on the flavour-burst with each bite. If you ask me, the fries were too much (maybe for an Asian), since the burger was heavy (in carbs and proteins) already.

The highlight of the day was of course the Lobster Roll. The chunky lobster meat was served in a 6-inch heated bun, along with shoestring fries and onion rings as sides. What I loved about this was that the Lobster Roll was not pre-drenched with any sauce. In other words, I could was able to confirm that the lobster served was fresh! Adding a dash of salt and pepper created an alternate flavour to the roll, but I still preferred to enjoy my Lobster Roll nude!

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On a side note, I quote enjoyed the onion rings. Onion rings found in Singapore were made of mashed onions, whereas the onion rings at Legal Sea Foods used the onion in its original form. The only disappointment was that the onion cooled down quickly (as you can see from the photo, they were thing rings), and lost its flavour when chilled.

Legal Sea Foods, as the name suggested, served more than the oysters and lobster rolls that we had. When we peeped over at the family seated next to us, we were also bowled over by the tantalising spread of grilled fish and crab. We had only space for lobster rolls and fried oysters, though!

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The lunch crowd soon drowned the cosiness we experienced and as the food coma overcame us, restaurant became too stuffy for us. Despite the slight drizzle, the cold fresh air that washed over us as we stepped out of Legal Sea Foods refreshed our memories of the yummy Lobster Rolls as we trudged our way across puddles of water back to Havard Yard.

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Luke’s Lobster

Technically speaking, Luke’s Lobster is also a franchise, albeit a smaller one. Especially for the outlet at Back Bay, which was just around a corner from Boston Public Library, it looked like we had stepped into a lazy seaside restaurant within a second from a bustling city!

Luke’s Lobster boasted seafood that is sustainable and traceable, something which is growing amongst conscious foodies. The wooden, organic décor of the outlet spoke much about such an ideal on being responsible to the environment while basking in life’s luxury.

By the time we pulled into Boston’s Back Bay, after a late afternoon train ride from New York City (because we really could not bear to leave that city of wonder!), the sun had already set. Therefore, we were so worried that Luke’s Lobster would be closed by the time we found our way there after checking into our hotel!

 

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Luckily, we made it in time. In fact, we were lucky that the dinner crowed had left and the restaurant was only filled with the quiet chatter of a couple of youngsters hanging out. We made our orders at the cashier that was manned by youngsters who most likely were undergraduates from the colleges in the city, before making ourselves comfortable in the restaurant. In contrast to Legal Sea Foods, Luke’s Lobster’s tables were small, configurable, yet cosy.

Huddling over a small table, we balked at the Lobster Rolls and Clam Chowder we ordered.

Although visitors to Boston would have came to Luke’s for Lobster Rolls, I went for Luke’s Trio, which consisted of a platter (of sorts) of Lobster Roll, Crab Roll and Shrimp Roll, but halved in sizes. N on the other hand, went for the good old traditional Lobster Roll, which according to the menu, was “¼ pound of chilled wild caught lobster” drizzled with “melted lemon butter, mayo” and Luke’s secret seasoning.

Just looking at the description made me drool.

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Again, the lobster itself was fantastic on its own (without additional salt and pepper, I mean, since the Lobster Roll was already served with melted butter and mayo). The hint of sea rolled over the tongue amidst the waves of tangy flavour burst from the butter. More importantly, the bun was toasted to a state of light and crispy, which was a terrific match for the succulent lobster meat!

My preference was actually the shrimp roll – surprise! It was ironic, since shrimps were supposed to be in the same “family” as lobsters. However, the North Atlantic Shrimps were bite-sized chewy balls that splattered freshness over the tongue that gave a stronger, but short-lived, shiokness over the lobster. In fact, the seasoning for the shrimp rolls (which was the same as that of the Lobster Rolls) complemented the meat so well, I was immediately awakened despite the long, tiring train journey from New York City.

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The small-sized bowls that the clam chowder came in with was barely bigger than XK and XD. However, they were filled to the brim with umami goodness (that you can top up by pouring the oyster crackers) over the top. The chowder was full of good old English flavour, creamy but not chunky and bursting with flavour every time I bit into the clams. For added texture, mix the oyster crackers thoroughly, so that you can enjoy some crunch with your chowder!

Just how good was Luke’s Lobster? Well… the ambience weren’t exactly spectacular (more of student-friendly than hipster-cosy), and the serving was average. However, that particular late-night meal I had got me craving for more of the Lobster Rolls that I forced N to return before we left Boston on Christmas Eve!

For first-timers (especially if you’re thinking of dropping in the outlets in Japan), Luke’s Trio is good for a taster. However, you may end up like me, preferring the Shrimp Roll over the Lobster Roll, and order a full-sized Shrimp Roll instead! No matter what you prefer, remember to pair it with good old England Clam Chowder!

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Bonus! Boston Sail Loft

I can’t really say if Boston Sail Loft was an accident. It was a fact that I planned to visit it, yet it was part of a dinner plan that I thought I’d make-do with a decent restaurant while I was in the area. After all, the area was filled with restaurants that was listed on any Tripadvisor review or food blogs available.

Again, the journey to Boston Sail Loft was a memorable one.

In my past visit to Boston, I had not managed to visit the wharf area since the area was rather far from a subway station and I didn’t want to wander too far off as a lone traveller with no data roaming. This time around, though, I came well-prepared.

After switching lines, we finally arrived at Aquarium station. It had been raining when we started our journey at Park Street, but that did not prepare us for the surprise by the wharf.

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The wind was so strong over there that we had a hard time even exiting the station and opening our umbrellas! Apparently, the structure of the station had an effect on the wind. By the time we were away from the building and headed into Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, the wind had wound down a little, though it was still blowing hard and cold. Therefore, if you are going to Boston Sail Loft in winter, remember to put on waterproof and windproof clothing!

The wind chill was terrible, especially with the open concept of the park creating a huge fetch for the wind coming in from the Atlantic. However, it was all worth it. In the middle of the park, one could catch a good view of the harbour on one side, with the city on the other, by just standing beside (Christopher Columbus?) the statue.

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Boston Sail Loft is 2 small junctions away from the park (yes, small, because according to Google, Boston Sail Loft was just a good 250m away from the station). The facade of the restaurant was deceiving; the small shopfront facing the junction gave the illusion that it was just a small restaurant. However, it was an elongated building (refurbished from old warehouses by the wharf). After entering the doorway, one would have to walk past the bar before settling down at the dining area.

 

As we were early (again, because we planned to have our meals before peak periods kick in), we scored ourselves a table by the window, overlooking the harbour. It was hard to imagine from the warm restaurant that the peaceful wharf outside was in fact enduring harsh winter winds!

The ambience of the restaurant reminded me of the The Crab Shack at Auckland, though not so much. Their similarity lie in the fact that they were both by the harbour, super winder and served seafood. However, Boston Sail Loft has a much older charm than The Crab Shack, which also embraced alfresco concept.

I don’t know what got over me, but we did not order Lobster Roll (which was Lobster Salad Roll Market on the menu, which probably didn’t catch our eyes as we were still reeling from the cold). Instead, we ordered Clam Chowder to warm ourselves up; N ordered a Boiled Fresh Scrod  while I went for Fish and Chips.

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N’s Boiled Fresh Scrod was grilled cod covered with a layer of piping hot Ritz cracker crumb sauce. That added a crispy texture to the tender fish, which was nothing short of fresh! The meal was served with a warm, fluffy baked potato (other options included rice or mashed potatoes) and vegetables. As usual, that serving was too much for an Asian.

In fact, all servings in the US were too much for us!

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My Fish and Chips came as a surprise. On the menu, I saw “Boston’s Best Fish and Chips” and decided that I wanted something simple and reliable. I had missed the description of “Mounds of fresh cod fried golden brown”.

First, my fish was not served in fillet forms like Singaporeans used to (I mean, Swensen’s is of American style, right?). They came in nuggets. And they came piled up in a HUUUGE mound that really took my breath away (granted, they were seated on a bed of fries, but I was contemplating how to fit all those goodness in my tummy!), while N eyed me with a sly smile.

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When I said “fish nuggets”, do not imagine they were like McDonald’s chicken nuggets, made up of mashed up fish parts. They were whole, small fish fillets wrapped in golden bread crumbs. The amazing thing was that the fish remained soft and moist despite the deep-frying process, and the outside was crispy and light! I am a sucker for tartar sauce, which paired very well with the fish, though I would say the fish was fresh enough to be savoured on its own! (N.B: the fish was not well marinated; the crispy outside was plain and if the fish was not fresh and tender, that would have been a bad dish)

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The highlight was of course the clam chowder. It came just like how the menu portrayed it: in a bowl, overflowing at the sides, topped with that crunchy oyster crackers. Just the sight of the cream flowing down the sides of the bowl was enough to whet the appetite (it came before the mains).

The chowder was a heavenly mix of savoury seafood and sweet, buttery flavour. Despite the thick texture, one could taste the clams with every bite. I guess we were both too overwhelmed by the cold outside that when the warmth of the chowder flowed from our tummy through our veins to every corner of our bodies, that sense of gratification was unspeakably ecstatic!

If you planned for a longer stay or have a huge appetite, you could actually order a jug of beer to chill, since the harbour was a pretty view to behold. My only gripe was the strong, fishy smell that, well, reminds one of an old wet market. That was quickly forgotten when them chowder and fish and baked potatoes started coming! lol

Cambridge – Charles Square

20 University Road
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-491-9400
https://www.legalseafoods.com/restaurants/cambridge-charles-square-90

Luke’s Lobster Back Bay

75 Exeter St
Boston, MA 02116, USA
lukeslobster.com
+1 857-350-4626

Boston Sail Loft

 

80 Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02110, USA
thebostonsailloft.com
+1 617-227-7280

ERL Sports Earbuds

Following the failed purchase of Treblab X11 wireless earphones, I decided I deserved a better pair and clicked on the suggested ad on FB for a new pair of buds. Apparently, “once bitten, twice shy” does not apply to me, as this was also a pair of buds launched using crowdfunding.

The ERL Wireless Sports Earbuds (ERL being the acronym for Electronic Research Lab) touts technology derived from “top audio and antenna engineers from MIT” that provides good quality at a price similar to my previous failed purchase (self-rubbing salt into self-wound…).

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Long story short, I didn’t want to spend SGD300 plus on a pair of branded wireless earbuds lol

Delivery took slightly more than a month, including the time for the funding campaign to end. I thought the delivery time frame was too long.

The buds came in an unassuming package, consisting of the buds, 3 pairs of rubber ear tips and a charging/carrying case (yes, there was no charging cable). One basically just places the buds in the case and plug the case to any micro-USB charger.

I wasn’t sure how long the first charge should take; the info online said about 2 hours, but just about half an hour in, the buds were glowing green and the four LED lights in the case were lit up.

That brought me to my first listening experience the next day.

The buds didn’t last for more than 1 hour the first time I listened to music on it, on Spotify, on my Google Pixel XL phone. My subsequent listening times were much shorter, as my daily commute didn’t take more than an hour each way (giving me time to charge the buds in between). All in all, between the first and second charges on the cable, the charging case lasted another 6 times of charging.

From the time of receiving the buds to the time of writing, my longest use was 1.5 hours, which was far lower than the 3.5hrs touted on the advtertisement.

The sound, on the other hand, was far better than Treblab’s. The music sounded fuller and I detected no noise. In addition, the ear tips that came with the buds fit snugly in my ear, so there was no “leakage” of sound from the outside, which made it even more enjoyable to listen to music using the buds.

However, when using it for phone calls, my peer on the other end complained that he could not hear me; he said I sounded too soft (not muffled).  Granted, I was in a café in a mall, but it was off-peak hour then and the cafe was empty, so the noise from external environment should not have too much an interfering effect.

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Setting up the buds was simple enough, which made me wonder how they could screw that up on the instruction sheet that accompanied the package. The steps are as below:

  1. Turn on your device’s Bluetooth
  2. Long-press your left earbud, till you hear “Power On” and “Pairing”. It should take about 5 seconds before your release your finger
  3. Wait for your phone to detect and pair the device, or you could go into the phone’s Bluetooth settings to pair it manually. Your cue would be when you hear “Connected”
  4. Once paired, long press the right earbud until you hear “Power On” and a “Beep”

For subsequent listening on a paired device, the same chronology of “Turn device Bluetooth on” > “Turn Left earbud on” > “Turn Right earbud on” applies.

Another difficulty for first-time users lies in the fact that there was no labelling of left and right on the earbuds. For the record, when the buds are in the case, with the power button of the case towards you (or below the LED lights), the bud on the left goes to the left ear and vice versa.

The last, but super buggy issue was the Bluetooth connection. The signals got lost for the silliest reason, like when I placed my phone in my jeans pocket, in the right back pants pocket (I assume the main antenna is on the left earbud, because if I were wearing pants and I placed my phone in my left back pocket, no interference was experienced), when I turned my head too fast too suddenly, when I swung my hands while walking… The worst case (that happened only once) was when I was chewing on my sweet and the song began to sound like a broken record.

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Again, this failure was stark when considering that they were touting this in a big way on their advertisement.

That being said, I think I’ll hold on to this pair of buds for the time being. The reasons were simple: sub-SGD100 (including shipping) + decent sound quality + good soundproofing. Since I seldom listened to music while walking, the Bluetooth issues that occurred due to movement did not really affect me that much.

In fact, I liked it so much I bought another pair for N! This time around, delivery took 2 weeks only. Seems like they made some improvements!

Convinced? Follow this  LINK to buy it now!

5-Minute Review – Beach Road Kitchen by JW Marriott

Singaporeans love buffet. Singaporeans also love exploring new stuff. With the influencers showcasing their staycays at the newly-opened JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach (I could literally smell the fresh paint from their posts!), many of us will also be tempted to try the new buffet place housed in the same compounds – Beach Road Kitchen. N and I went to take a look to see if this place is worth our calories (and moolahs).

Due to the design of the hotel (which was built around the heritage buildings originally sitting on the land), Beach Road Kitchen was not in the same building as the hotel; that does not mean you cannot take the excuse to walk one round in the hotel reception area (like we did :P)

 

Also due to its unique design, most of the dining area enjoyed good views of the outdoors, no thanks to the full-height glass windows and minimal kitchen space. On the other hand, the tables were carved out in numerous enclaves, with the food stations peppered amongst the seats. For example, after taking the grilled chicken, you would have to worm through the crowd to get to the seafood section.

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The Food Stations

Speaking of seafood, they have an entire space (think: walk-in fridge (not walking fridge)) devoted to the seafood. This meant that seafood remained cold due to the enclosed space, though there was quite a squeeze trying to get to the food. One unique menu item they had was a full lobster (not half, not thermidor), albeit a mini one, that was worth trying out.

Hot food items wise, I had mentioned the grilled station, which was beside the Indian food section. There was that typical Chinese food station (food-to-note: Hokkien Mee and Fried Rice), pastry section and dessert station. The dessert section took up a noticeably larger space than the others, where one could find a nonya kuehs, tarts, cakes, cookies, soft-serve ice cream and ice-cream in cups.

Another notable station was the Laksa Bar. One can choose their noodles and ingredients from a (literally) wall of options, pass them to the chef, who would cook them and serve it piping hot to you bathed in laksa gravy (the food, not the chef).

 

The Quality

Let’s start from the laksa – the gravy was watery and lacked umami. Most of the desserts were passable. I only had their ice cream cups, 3 flavours of it, and I must say the only one worth eating was Coconut (while N preferred Gula Melaka). Despite our disagreement, we thought we would avoid the Mango flavour at all cost.

I tucked in to the seafood first, and I had high expectations of them. Meeting high expectations, as it turned out, was not Beach Road Kitchen’s strength. Though I said the cute mini lobsters were worth a try, it was for the spirit of “been there, done that”. There was this fishy taste that bordered on being stale. The bamboo clam was totally inedible, clams was just OK, and the oysters were too salty and non-juicy (may I say I was eating the Ally McBeal of oysters?).

If you ask me, even the Ah Ma walking into the seafood section was fresher than the seafood she was putting on her plate.

 

The Service

The staff was courteous, with the younger ones observed to be attempting at mastering service language. They were prompt in clearing the tables and topping up water. There was an episode, where we witnessed a matriarch of a family (they apparently reserved a tonne-load of seats that filled up a good section of the dining area) wanting to combine that tonne-load of seats into one mega-dining table that would make even the twelve apostles appalled. Despite the insistence to fulfill that funny request, there was not a second where the server showed impatience or expressed insolence.

 

However, my only bug was the glass; I noted at the start that the glass was obviously not cleaned properly (the whole glass was translucent instead of clear, like the glass standing beside it). Apparently no one saw that. And when I pointed it out to the young server, she looked back at me with her big eyes and said, “It’s not dirty, Sir.” I had wanted her to judge for herself the quality of cleanliness of the glass, as I thought it would provide a good learning experience for a new staff like her. In the end, I gave up and simply requested for a new glass because we were getting to nowhere with my feedback.

 

The Conclusion

N and I agreed that anybody who wants to try out this new place should give it more time to fine-tune their food and service quality. 1 year should suffice.

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Beach Road Kitchen

30 Beach Rd, Singapore 189763
http://www.marriott.com/hotel-restaurants/sinjw-jw-marriott-hotel-singapore-south-beach/modules/5885674/home-page.mi
6818 1913

 

[No Bear Talk] Reminisce Spring with Sakura Snacks! 拉住春天的尾巴!

Spring is leaving! So XK and I tried 2 Sakura-flavoured snacks to express our gratitude to Nature for giving us the wonder of seasons 🙂

We also topped it off with Premium Morning Tea!

Shot with Olympus TG870
Edited with Viva Video
Sponsored by Friend of Nomini

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Tax Refund in Milan Malpensa Airport

I was at Milan/Madrid last year, and well, I had to buy some good quality leather products while I was at THE country that makes good quality leather products, ya? And these things don’t come cheap, so I also made sure I read up on the tax refund procedures prior to my trip.

Unfortunately, the information was scarce on internet. Even on the official website of  Milan Malpensa Airport (which was my last point of departure from the Schengen region), the instruction was vague. It was as if the authorities didn’t want tourists to get their tax refunds…  *cue conspiracy theory sinister music*

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Can I Get Tax Refunds?

First things first, as with all tax refunds, there are criteria you must meet before you can even think of starting the refund process. You must first be a non-EU citizen. Then, if you are travelling around the EU countries (like I did, between Spain and Italy), you can only claim your refund at the last point before you leave the EU (a.k.a Schengen region).

The exception is if, eg. You are taking SQ377 (BCN-MXP-SIN) that leaves Barcelona and transits through Milan, such that even though Milan is your last point of departure from the EU, but you effectively left the region at Barcelona (because at Milan, you won’t be picking up your bags and doing re-check-in), then you have to process your tax refund at Barcelona.

For me, I arrived from Madrid via Air Europa, a budget airline that does not connect to my onward SQ flight at all. Therefore, I had to “check out”, pick up my bags, then check in again, thereby making Milan my last point of departure.

Lastly, your purchases must be over €158 from shops that provide tax refunds. Do note that different EU countries have different spend amount; in Spain, the minimum spend is €90.16. However, as in my case, as I was claiming tax refund in Italy, I had to meet Italy’s minimum spend requirement, instead of Spain’s, where I bought my stuff.

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How Do I Do It?

If you search on its official website, Milan Malpensa Airport does not seem to want you to get your tax refund. There was no accompanying map indicating the location, neither did they mention if you are to check in your bags before or after you got your tax refunds.

If you proceed to look at the terminal map (link HERE), you will realise that the description on the tax refund page was not helpful at all in finding the tax refund counter!

MXP T1 Map

If you scrutinise the maps (for Level 1 and Level 2), you will get very confused; the check in counters are at Level 1, but they said to proceed to the tax refund counter at Level 2 check-in counter. But… didn’t you just check in at Level 1?

An Overview of the Process

So, here’s my walk-through, which I hope can clarify everybody’s doubts.

  1. Check in and get your boarding pass at Level 1
  2. Clear the centralised security screening
  3. After security screening, look for the customs counter. i.e. Do NOT go through the passport control
  4. Clear the customs
  5. Process your tax refund
  6. Go through passport control
  7. Board your plane

1. Check in and get your boarding pass at Level 1

At this point, just check in your goods, especially if they are bulky. The tax refund staff did not even look at the stuff I bought. And, as you will realise later, there is no avenue for you to check in your luggage after the tax refund.

2. Clear the centralised security screening

The security screening area is located at the centre of the terminal, with its entrance facing the apron. i.e. you have to go round to the back of the terminal to enter the bag screening area. Leave 15 minutes to clear the queues and checks.

3. After security screening, look for the customs counter. i.e. Do NOT go through the passport control.

After you clear the security screening, you will go up an escalator. Facing the apron, you turn right (towards the European Domestic boarding gates). It will be a long walk, but unlike the tax refund counters, the customs counter is more visible. Hand in your receipts and passport and remember, SMILE and be polite!

The customs officer was very friendly and expeditious. But then again, there was no queue at the counter, so I might be just plain lucky!

4. Process your tax refund.

To get your tax refund, you have to back-track from the customs office, though the customs office and tax refund counter are not far apart.

The tax refund counter is NOT off a publicly-visible area. You have to look out for the sign very carefully. Once you find the sign, you turn into the corridor (much like if you were to go to one of the back-end offices in an airport). After about a 10m walk, you enter an open space where you can see the counters of various tax refund companies before you. The counters are set out like the bank tellers of the 80s, so it won’t be hard to miss.

It was here that my luck ran out. I had to get my tax refunds from both Global Blue and Premier Tax. I chose the queue of one and by the time I went for the other (I forgot which company it was), the staff was missing. She only appeared after 15 minutes, and without saying a word of sorry, she very slowly processed my tax refunds. Because of her, my actual process of tax refund took more than half an hour!

Therefore, always leave at least 30 minutes for this segment of tax refund; you never know if you would be held up by the queue or a very sloppy staff.

5. Go through passport control

The passport control itself is another time-killer. Leave 15 minutes to clear passport control.

6. Board your plane

Be very sure of how far your gate is from passport control. I was taking the SQ flight (then SQ367) back to Singapore, and the gate was right at the end of the terminal; the signs indicated that it would be a 15-min walk, but as I was running short of time, I rushed through the terminal and reached in about 5 minutes. Do take note of this unless you plan on missing your flight!

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TL;DR

As you can see from my description above, the torture of tax refund in Milan Malpensa Airport is a big mixture of various reasons, ranging from ambiguous instructions, obscure placement of counters, staff that goes MIA and plenty of walking and queuing up to do. My whole process of checking-in to boarding of plane took about 1.5 hours; I was transiting from a budget domestic flight, and boy was I glad I gave myself 3 hours of transit time!

 

Therefore, if you are transiting through Milan Malpensa Airport (on the pretext that it will be your last point of departure as I mentioned above), make sure you leave at least 3 hours for transit time, which will also factor in delays and waiting time to pick up your check in bags.

If you are leaving Milan directly, leave at least 2 hours between check in and boarding.

On a last note, I observed that Italians/Spaniards start queuing up to board the planes 20 minutes before the gates were opened, and they bring plenty of carry-ons. Unless you are travelling on First/Business class, you may want to factor this in, so that you reach the gate in time to start queuing!

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Bonus! Make Time To Explore The Airport!

Although I said to allocate 2 hours for tax refund before boarding, it doesn’t mean you can’t spend more time at Milan Malpensa Airport!

First, it is a small airport/terminal building, so the departure check-in area looks out to the apron. During my transit (SIN-MXP-BCN), I had to spend about 5 hours in the airport (well, I wanted to make sure I had sufficient time to clear customs in a place I know nuts about the language and culture…), and I got to sit by the window and watch the sunrise across the runway!

That being said, this is a very good place for casual planespotting. There is a variety of planes, from B777 to A320, decked out in livery that are very much different from what we can see in Changi Airport.

The airport has a very nostalgic architecture (I think in the style of brutalist; any architects out there can advise?), therefore, spend some time in the driveway to take pictures of the architecture like XK!

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The décor of the interior is also very retro. I reckon it was left unchanged since the 80s. I felt like I was walking down memory lane (literally!) as I shuttled to and from the boarding gates. In other words, their corridors and tiled flooring are very instagrammable!

As mentioned, it is a small airport, with not much shopping and eating to do. However, if you are taking a budget flight like I did, you can drop by the café on the south wing (if you face the apron, it is on the right end of the terminal) for a quick bite.

Finally, it is true when you hear people say that Italians and Spaniards are very laissez-faire. Queues are long not because there is a crowd, but because the servers are not kanchiong spiders like Singaporeans! Therefore, when I say “get a quick bite”, expect to spend at least 15 minutes, of which 10 minutes are spent in the queue XP

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That’s all on my how-to for tax refund at Milan Malpensa Airport! Do let me know if you think this is helpful. If you know parts of my post that is outdated/erroneous, do drop me a note too!

Read my other posts for my review on staying at H10 Tribeca Hotel in Madrid, short itinerary to seeing the best of Madrid, as well as recommendations for some quick fix to your hunger in between your busy schedules!

Support my other post, also about tax refund, but at Seoul, if you are travelling to that side of the world!

Something Old, Something New: Xin Restaurant

There was once a famous building in Singapore that everybody affectionately called the Glass Hotel. Standing at the junction of Outram Road and Havelock Road, it was in fact Concorde Hotel, which was a landmark around the Tiong Bahru area until recently, when it underwent a makeover to become Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium.

Despite the change of hands, there was one restaurant that remained: Xin Cuisine Chinese Restaurant (新故乡, which literally translates to “New Hometown”).

 

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Like many established restaurants that I had visited, Xin Restaurant is known by many, but does not have a raving existence on social media; people know that it is the Cantonese restaurant to go to for reliably good Cantonese cuisine or dim sum buffet, yet it does not have the buzz surrounding the likes of Sin Hoi San or Liao Fan Hawker Chan. In other words, it is those slow and steady names that does not seem to fall out of favour, ever.

On most times, the restaurant serves dim sum buffet. On weekends, they serve a la carte items during dinner time, and that would be when one will be able to taste good quality Cantonese cuisine without the crazy crowd.

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N and I went conservative for our orders (since that was the first time we were there). We looked up the few popular food blogs that did talk about the restaurant, and decided to try some of their new menu items.

  • Poached Rice with Seafood in Superior Broth served with Crispy Rice (海皇泡贵妃米)
  • Deep-fried Prawns Coated with Yuzu Mayonnaise (柚子虾球)
  • Xin’s Signature Home-Style Roast Duck with Tea Leaves(故乡茶皇鸭)
  • Braised Home-Made Beancurd Topped with Assorted Mushrooms(什菌扒菠菜豆腐)
  • Pu-er with Chrysanthemum (普菊)

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Poached Rice with Seafood in Superior Broth served with Crispy Rice (海皇泡贵妃米)

As the signature dish, we had high hopes for this. The English name of the dish is practical, but does not represents the grandiose of the dish. Literally translated to “Concubine-Rice poached in Seafood Royalties”, one would expect rice bathed in a generous serving of seafood.

Instead, the best of seafood was in the soup – the seafood based soup was totally infused with the fresh and tasty-ness of seafood, which was also absorbed by the rice “bathing” in it. The seafood was not as generous, but their essence in the broth was sufficient! The crispy rice was served separately; they added a different texture to the dish, through the crispiness and also the wok-hei resulting from the rice being wok-fried to crispiness. If you ask me, the dish was good enough without the crispy rice, though the latter added another dimension to the whole gastronomic experience.

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Deep-fried Prawns Coated with Yuzu Mayonnaise (柚子虾球)

A crowd favourite, 虾球 or “Prawn Balls” never fails, with its thick succulent prawns wrapped in light crispy batter to give a burst of flavour with every bite. Xin Restaurant gives it twist by adding Yuzu Mayonnaise (which in actual fact, was just Yuzu sauce drizzled over the dish, which already had mayonnaise). In our opinion, the yuzu was redundant, to the effect of making the prawns taste metallic.

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Xin’s Signature Home-Style Roast Duck with Tea Leaves(故乡茶皇鸭)

Another signature, the roast duck was Peking Duck minus the frills. The skin was roasted to heavenly light crispiness, while the meat sports a balanced mix of fats and tender meat. The sauce (which I assumed was where the tea leaves were infused) brought back memories of the food we had in childhood.

One special thing to note was that after eating the prawn balls, the lingering yuzu taste totally destroyed the flavour of the duck. Remember the metallic taste I mentioned earlier? That was magnified when mixed with the duck sauce. Therefore, remember to take a sip of the tea after eating the prawn to wash the yuzu away.

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Braised Home-Made Beancurd Topped with Assorted Mushrooms(什菌扒菠菜豆腐)

Last, but not least, this braised tofu was surprisingly pleasing. The tofu “patty” was made up of 2 halves – the tofu and minced spinach. That was on top of the bed of spinach, topped with assorted mushrooms, bathed in gravy oozing with umami.

Spinach, as most would know, contained its own metallic/bitterness. That was balanced out by the mushroom and sauce. This provided a good undertone for the refreshing flavour of the tofu. Texture wise, the soft tofu was complemented by both the bouncy mushroom and crunchy spinach. A classic, but good concoction of ingredients!

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This restaurant oozes with old-time charm – you would mistake it for anything else other than a good old Cantonese restaurant, minus the rude servers! Another factor that sets it out from the other new restaurants was how spacious they set the tables apart. Though we had a la carte dinner so that we need not move around like that during a buffet, I couldn’t help but notice how far apart the tables were, which actually gave the restaurant this sense of zen-ness you can rarely find in modern restaurants.

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Therefore, if you have time, take the effort down to Tiong Bahru to revisit the charm of 1970s Singapore, in a cosy, modern setting. I mean, if you can make the effort to go down to hard-to-reach hipster cafes in Seletar Airport or Kallang, then Xin Restaurant would be no mean feat.

In fact, make time to have a weekend dinner at Xin Restaurant for the coming Mother’s Day!

Xin Cuisine Chinese Restaurant
317 Outram Rd, Holiday Inn Atrium, 169075
https://singaporeatrium.holidayinn.com/xin-cuisine-chinese-restaurant
6731 7173

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Food Review in 3 Minutes: Liao Fan Hawker Chan

Everyone in Singapore knows about our first Michelin-starred Soya Chicken Noodle (Yau Kai Meen). Perhaps many have queued up at its Chinatown shop that seemed to be full 24/7. If you are willing to try out a franchise outlet, then you can consider making the trip to Tai Seng for a better chance to taste the famed hawker fare.

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Tai Seng? You ask. Yes, even after the opening of Circle Line, Tai Seng remained a mystery to many Singaporeans, who at most knew it as just another station on the line. However, in the recent few years, the area around the station (which is just 2 bus stops from Comfort Driving Centre) has been given a new breath of live. Many local enterprises have opened (or even built) their HQ in the area, most notably Breadtalk and Charles & Keith.

One of the new buildings is 18 Tai Seng. As low-key as the building sounds, its first-level shopping strip houses a whole variety of F&B outlets for every budget. The anchors, as can be seen from the road, are Tim Ho Wan and the stall-of-the-day: Liao Fan Hawker Chan.

Unlike the stall at Chinatown, the outlet at Tai Seng was bright and airy, thanks to its high ceiling and better seat planning. The queue was long as usual (it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, for goodness sake), but you get to queue in the comfort of the restaurant, albeit in aircon.

 

When I visited Liao Fan Hawker Chan on a Sunday evening, there were about 10 people in the queue and it took us about 15 minutes to get our food. The seats were mostly taken, but if you are travelling in small groups (like 2 pax) and are willing to share tables, you should have no issue finding a seat.

N told me that the star for Liao Fan Hawker Chan was its Soya Chicken Noodle, but the gem was its noodle, not the chicken. Therefore, if you have not eaten its Soya Chicken Noodle (and ordered its rice instead, or the roasted meat alone), then you are not fit to judge the food in Liao Fan Hawker Chan!

If you ask me, the chicken was nice; the meat was tender and infused with a hint of sesame oil, making it light and flavourful, which was unlike the average Soya Chicken where the taste of the soya sauce overpowered everything else. I liked how the caramelised skin added another layer of texture (i.e. 口感) to the chicken! The chicken fared higher than average, though it stopped short of being the best I have tasted.

The noodle was amazing. It was so springy, I had trouble controlling my chewing (just kidding)! In the world of noodles, the chef aims for their noodles to be light, chewy, yet not dry and not oily. (If you think of it from another perspective, a bowl of lousy noodles is characterized by its clumpy and mushy taste). Liao Fan Hawker Chan used the thin yellow noodles, typical for Soya Chicken Noodles, and cooked the noodles to the right degree of bounciness. If you want to go down to details, yes, you can feel every strand of the noodle on your tongue! The accompanying sauce was easy on the palette, complementing the balance of the noodles and chicken.

If you are craving for a Michelin-starred fare, but concerned about the crowd, then Liao Fan Hawker Chan at 18 Tai Seng is a great choice. Do be aware that there is almost no shopping (the best I can offer is NTUC Fairprice) available in the area.

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Liao Fan HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle

 

#01-02
18 Tai Seng St
6386 2000

Bonus

In case you’re wondering: Will the Soya Chicken Noodles taste good with sambal chilli? Let me tell you that I had tried it for you.

On its own, the chilli was decent. However, it totally overwhelmed the taste of the chicken, because the soya was light. In fact, if you look at the picture below, before I even tucked in to my noodles, I could see how the chilli had ruined the dish.

As before, my stand is that chilli is only to be used/added when the dish is bad. There’s no point in spoiling a decent dish with chilli, especially when the original taste was what the dish was known for!

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Food Review in 3 Minutes: Yoshinoya New Concept

Good old Yoshinoya… It had a terrific reputation back in Japan, where a plain bowl of Black Pepper Beef Rice Bowl (or the Pork variant of it) was enough to bowl people over. In Singapore, Yoshinoya had a rather low-cost status. Marketed like a fast food, the decor and upkeep of its restaurants always made the stores felt very budget and un-appetising. Even Mos Burger, which was evidently a fast food joint, felt more atas than Yoshinoya.

With this in mind, Yoshinoya made a change that does not require people to getacquainted with new brand, and yet provide everyone with a refreshing image of the restaurant.

Decor wise, they chose a dark, earthy and mature theme. The seats now come in the form of cushioned chairs, rather than the plastic benches in its old stores. The lighting is now less harsh, tuned towards a warm, cozy feel.

The change in “level” of the store was so successful, one would overlook the fact that they cut (or maybe retained the number of) the manpower: You now have to fill your own drink, retrieve your own cutlery, and they designed their tray return point in such a way that you would even be compelled to clear the food waste before you return the tray!

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Ok, this is bad photography. The focus should have been the seats and decor in the foreground.

Food wise, they re-packaged existing food items, and added more.

Despite its old, shabby feel, I liked Yoshinoya for its balance of protein and greens on top of a bed of good quality Japanese rice. In the new concept, they retained the spirit, and instead of boring carrots and peas, they added lotus, (yellow?) cucumber and sweet potato. The colour alone made everything looked more appealing and whets one’s appetite!

New items include a series of “Dainty Meals” that target those who eat less than us mere mortals. In other words, neither me nor my friends have tried one of these items yet 😛 However, one of my colleagues tried the new Teriyaki Saba Set (he ordered Salmon, but the order came different). Despite the wrong order, the grilled Saba was so good that he was all praises for his meal!

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We first spotted (and tried) a new concept store at Harbourfront late last year. Since then, they had opened up more of such outlets much to my delight 🙂 As of writing, there are 9 of such outlets, though mainly in the central / east (blessing to the easties!).

I really love the new concept Yoshinoya. They retained their strength and revamped what was lacking, and therefore created a new product that I enjoyed a lot. In fact, I keep craving for it!

Click on this link to have a look at their revamped menu!

 

Treblab X11 Earbuds [Review]

Some time in December last year, I was scouting for a pair of wireless buds to replace my 8-year-old earphones. I found the Jabra lines of earbuds too expensive, and so were the Jaybird products. My main concern was whether the earbuds could fit after I spent a few hundred bucks on them, even though they all claimed to provide ear tips of various sizes.

Interestingly, an advertisement appeared on my FB feed, enticing me to buy a pair of wireless earbuds from Treblab, called Treblab X11. The reviews were rather good; the reviewers talked of how the sound came out rich and how comfortable the buds were. I was not sure if the reviews were, you know, paid reviews, but I could not find a negative review of the buds, so my conclusion was that the buds were good enough.

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At S$58.98 (inclusive of shipping), the earbuds were an attractive offer. The original design was in black, which was rather cool, especially with the red accent. However, I was looking for something low profile, so I chose the white pair of buds instead.

Shipping was fast; I received the buds within a week! The contents were as listed:

Treblab X11 Earbuds Package Contents

Fit

This was actually my greatest concern, and so I spent a lot of effort trying to get a fit. The package comes with 3 pairs of plastic ear tips (in white) and 3 pairs of expanding foam tips (in black). I actually tried all of them, but unfortunately, none of them fit me!

The buds came with wing tips, which were supposed to help secure the buds to the ears — they were useless as well. Most of the time, the wing tips were not even touching my ears.

In the end, the buds always felt like they were about to fall out of my ears.

Sound Quality

I am no expert in sound, so I won’t go into “bass” or “treble” quality. I’ll describe it for what it is.

Across a variety of singers I listened to on Spotify, all of the songs’ music accompaniment were suppressed; the vocals were so loud and raw, it sounded bad. There was a lot of noise. My expectation was for the music accompaniment to be rich and complement the singers’s voices.

For dance remix, the result was no better. There was no oomph in the music, because the bass was missing.

And because I could not get a good fit, external noise kept interfering with my music. This is especially bad when I am outside of the bus (perhaps walking from the bus to the train station); I could not hear the music from the buds at all.

Battery Life

The listed battery life was 6 hours – and it was 6 hours the first time I used it. After that, the buds never lasted 3 hours.

Other Issues

I kept having issues turning the buds on. The procedure was supposed to be: turn the buds on, then connect to the phone. After you turn the buds on, there will be a voice to tell you the buds were On and the left bud will go “Left Channel” then the right bud will go “Right Channel”. Thereafter, it will start to pair with the phone, after which, it will say “Connected”.

There were times when, after connecting to the phone, the sound only came out from one bud! I had to reboot the buds again to start the connection process.

Verdict

I think the reviews of Treblab X11 earbuds were over rated. At best, they will be good ear pieces for speaking on the phone (which I have no opportunities to try).

If you want to use it for listening to music, I think you can spend your moolah on better stuff.

p/s: I know it sounds depressing to read about a pair of lousy earphones. Read my review of a better pair of earbuds HERE for inspiration!

Treblab X11 Earbuds Official Pic